U.S. might lift ban on gay blood donors

FDA favours new pol­icy bar­ring do­na­tions from men who have had gay sex in the pre­vi­ous year

Metro Canada (Winnipeg) - - WORLD -

U.S. health of­fi­cials are rec­om­mend­ing an end to Amer­ica’s lifetime ban on blood do­na­tions from gay and bi­sex­ual men, a 31-year-old pol­icy that many med­i­cal groups and gay ac­tivists say is no longer jus­ti­fied.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion said Tues­day it favours re­plac­ing the blan­ket ban with a new pol­icy bar­ring do­na­tions from men who have had gay sex in the pre­vi­ous year. FDA of­fi­cials said that pol­icy is sup­ported by re­search and would put the U.S. in line with other coun­tries in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and Bri­tain.

The lifetime ban dates from the early years of the AIDS cri­sis and was in­tended to pro­tect the blood sup­ply from what was a then lit­tle-un­der­stood dis­ease. But many med­i­cal groups, in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, say the pol­icy is no longer sup­ported by sci­ence, given ad­vances in HIV test­ing. Gay ac­tivists say the lifetime ban is dis­crim­i­na­tory and per­pet­u­ates neg­a­tive stereo­types of ho­mo­sex­ual men.

The agency will rec­om­mend the switch in draft guide­lines early next year and move to fi­nal­ize them after tak­ing com­ments from the pub­lic, said FDA of­fi­cials. FDA Deputy Di­rec­tor Dr. Peter Parks de­clined to give a time frame for com­plet­ing the process but said, “we com­mit to work­ing as quickly as pos­si­ble on this is­sue.”

All blood do­na­tions are screened for HIV; how­ever, the test only de­tects the virus after it’s been in the blood­stream about 10 days. That al­lows a brief win­dow when the virus that causes AIDS can go un­de­tected. Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures, men who have had sex with other men repre- sent about two per cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, yet ac­count for at least 62 per cent of all new HIV in­fec­tions in the U.S.

Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of gov­ern­ment dis­cus­sions re­ex­am­in­ing the ban. Last month a panel of blood safety ex­perts con­vened by Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices voted 16-2 in favour of do­ing away with the lifetime ban. The panel rec­om­mended mov­ing to a one-year ban, which bars donors who have had male-on­male sex dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 12 months.

Some gay ac­tivists said Tues­day that pol­icy re­mains un­re­al­is­tic and will still stig­ma­tize gay and bi­sex­ual men.

“Some may be­lieve this is a step for­ward, but in re­al­ity, re­quir­ing celibacy for a year is a de facto lifetime ban,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion Gay Men’s Health Cri­sis, a New York-based non­profit that sup­ports AIDS preven­tion and care, said after the an­nounce­ment.

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